18 Dec 2016

Sport: Fiji Rugby under fire over sevens contracts

2:39 am on 18 December 2016

More criticism has been fired at the Fiji Rugby Union regarding player welfare, this time from Opposition National Federation Party president Roko Tupou Draunidalo.

Already Opposition Sodelpa party president Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu and a flood of social media comment, have called on the FRU to "play fair" and contract their renown sevens squad.

Ben Ryan, who led Fiji to two World Series titles and a first ever Olympic Gold, initiated discussions on twitter by pleading with the union to pay the "amazing men" that made up the team during the opening two rounds of the season.

The FRU responded with a statement saying it seemed difficult for Ryan to move on and they were disappointed in his constant comments.

The FRU said the employment contracts of the team, who won a first Olympic Gold in Rio and a second consecutive world title this year, have expired but they are still getting "relevant allowances".

Now Draunidalo has said Fiji appears to be the only country in the world who wins Olympic gold but then fails to secure any commercial benefit for their players.

The National Federation Party MP Tupou Draunidalo.

Tupou Draunidalo says the treatment of the sevens team is disgraceful Photo: RNZ / Sally Round

She said at the very least they should be well remunerated.

"It's just unbelievable to us that there are reports that they are getting $FJ50 a day while they are in training and $FJ100 while they are out in tournaments," Draunidalo said.

"That's just shocking in the context of an alleged $FJ40m sponsorship from a telecommunications company."

Draunidalo said the FRU should explain what is happening with their supposed sponsorship money.

She believes Fiji's players are paid a disgraceful amount when compared with their New Zealand counterparts.

Draunidalo said the pittance shows how badly the FRU is operating.

"If they're running that ship well, those boys should all be on contract or their allowances much greater.

"There was a story and it just showed the New Zealand Rugby Union and what it pays its sevens players and sevens is not as big in New Zealand as it is huge in Fiji," she said.

New Zealand Rugby's latest collective agreement provides the men's sevens team with a minimum retainer of $NZ40,000 and the women's team with $NZ45,000.

While both Opposition parties have harshly criticised the FRU, Draunidalo said you could not separate the politics with the sport in Fiji.

She cited the fact that the Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama was the FRU President and had been actively involved in running of the sport.

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Fiji sevens fans are all over the world Photo: Photosport

Draunidalo also said rugby was a uniting factor in an otherwise fractured society, transcending race or other issues which could be problematic in the country.

"All Fijians love sevens rugby. The nation basically stands still when they are out playing," she said.

"During the Olympics when Fiji had gone through some very tough times, poverty is rife in the country.

"Morale is low and Cyclone Winston hit very hard and their win did wonders for the morale of Fijians everywhere and to find out that they are being so hard done by, it is very shocking."

Coach says team focused despite contract talk

The interim-coach of the Fiji sevens team said his players are focused on improving their on-field performance despite the public outcry over their lack of contracts.

Naca Cawanibuka has been at the helm of the team during the first two rounds of the season with newly signed Gareth Baber due to arrive in Fiji in January.

Cawanibuka said the players are hoping the situation can be resolved off the field.

"In terms of contracts and all those other things, it is for people in the administration to work that out and those who work at sponsorships and all those things.

Although Cawanibuka said the players are obviously interested in their welfare.

"We are hoping that it can be sorted out. For me I will leave it at that because it is a sensitive issue," he said.

"It's something that I wouldn't want to deal with and it is something that other people in the office can deal with."

Despite the controversy over payments and the team's failure to win a tournament so far this season, the coach is still taking positives from the first two rounds of the series.

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Cawanibuka prefers to leave the off-field issues to the administrators Photo: twitter

Despite coming second and fifth in Dubai and Cape Town respectively, the coach said the team was able to improve their fitness and blood some new players.

"The boys performed to the best they could. Having said that, we still think quite strongly that they were two tournaments, Dubai and Cape Town, that we let slip from our grasp," Cawanibuka said.

"But the points are really close at the top of the table and the series, [with Fiji] coming in a close third behind England.

"It's a wide open series, the positive we can get is that the only other teams above us are two teams that have been well-established over the last three and four years."

Fiji has only lost one game in each of the two rounds, both to the eventual tournament winners.

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